Thursday, 31 March 2022

Thirty Years Ago - March 1992

1st March:

Pete and I headed up the A12 towards Abberton Reservoir passing a single Waxwing in Harold Hill on the way perched on top of some bright red Dogwood. Goldeneye were everywhere and many were displaying but there was no sign of the Long-tailed Duck. Two Goosander and 12 Ruddy Duck were noted before we headed for East Mersea.

We were after the single Shorelark at Mersea Stone and with luck found it at the very end quietly grovelling in the loose company of about 30 Sanderlings.  A Essex lifer to boot and a very smart individual. A male Merlin dashed across and with a squall coming in we made our way to Fingringhoe Wick for lunch. The tide was all the way out by now with all the usual waders spread out across the mud. A ringtail Hen Harrier and female Merlin were the only raptors seen out across Langenhoe Ranges.


2nd March:

The Chase Pine Bunting was still with his Yellowhammer buddies and the six LEOs were still napping.

4th March:

Back to the Chase once again, this time with Pete and the Pine Bunt performed incredibly well in the bright sunshine with 16 Yellowhammers. A brightly plumaged singing Chiffchaff was quite probably a migrant rather than one of our drab wintering ones.

On to Duckwood where 12 Hawfinches performed brilliantly and some were even singing before we made our way up to Hanningfield Reservoir where 16 Goldeneye and 84 Wigeon were counted from the causeway but the Ruddy Duck flock was on the south pool and 70 were counted including many bubbling males in full display. A ‘typically polite, warm hearted’ water company official then threw us off for trespassing…

7th-8th March:

A busy weekend moving ponds around the garden at home resulted in sore hands, an aching back, a small financial gain, a Coal Tit, four Chaffinches, a Greenfinch with a white tail and a garden tick in the shape of a single Greylag over with Canadas!

9th March:

An after Poly visit to Hall Marsh resulted in no Little Ringed Plovers but a pair of Greylag were notable along with nine Snipe, three Goldeneye, 200 Siskin, Green Woodpecker and two Willow Tits. [Eds: Just remember that… Greylag notable… Willow Tit casual mention]

11th March:

I picked up Nigel Pepper in Ongar at 10am for a day out in Essex and after a look at his amazing music gig images and re-identifying a poorly rescued Meadow Pipit in the aviary as a Skylark, [Eds: no errant Catharus thrushes were noted…] we headed across country to a windy Hanningfield Reservoir. Fifty Ruddy Ducks were counted and three Sand Martins became my earliest ever.

On to Abberton where despite the wind and cold we did manage to find and count 212 Goldeneye, 14 Ruddy Ducks, 500 Wigeon, four Bewick’s Swans, 12 Russian White-fronts, two male Pintail, two Oystercatchers, 42 Dunlin, a Ruff and a flock of 343 Fieldfare.

It was far too windy to try Mersea so we sat it out at Fingringhoe and despite being high tide the Colne only offered two Great Crested Grebes and 32 Red-breasted Mergansers. A smart Ringed Plover and two Avocet were seen amongst other species and a ringtail Hen Harrier quartered.

We stopped at Horseford Bridge on the way home where Nigel’s pair of Little Owls duly obliged. Such perpetually shocked looking faces!

14th March:

With winds in the south-west Pete and I headed to Dungeness in the hope of some migrants. We were to be disappointed with just a White Wagtail and a single Med Gull for our troubles. The reserve and ARC were dead so we headed to Scotney which was more productive with 2m and 3f Scaup, a Russian White-front and two flying Long-tailed Ducks which were a welcome year tick.

Back east now to Folkestone with me dozing en route and awake again somewhere just outside town where we stopped for lunch with a 2nd year Med Gull drifting through on cue. And only briefly stopping  for a ready salted crisp.  The drizzle came and went and was fortunately in the latter phase when we got to Copt Point where 22 Med Gulls of various ages milled about [Eds: This was the Med Gull hot spot at the time].

North now to Stodmarsh for the first time this year. We walked all the way around to the flooded meadows at Grove Ferry and scanned around for the Glossy Ibis. It was a lovely sunny evening and so we watched the field and hoped it would appear.  There were lots of ducks and Herons but no Ibis while a lone ringtail Hen Harrier hunted along the back and a flight of 32 Mute Swans made a strange sight.

At 4.20pm we were beckoned back to our original spot by another birder and I have to admit to deserting Pete and running back to the pools where the Ibis was happily on show.  For once the flying hocky stick was a richly coloured proper Ibis decked out in chestnuts, bronzes and greens. A male Hen Harrier was patrolling the sallows and a second ringtail dropped in to round up the day. [Eds: My journal does not say whether Pete caught me up but I suspect he did]

Glossy Ibis

15th March:

My last look at the Chase Pine Bunting as it left two days later. Despite the rain it was feeding in the shelter of some bushes with the Yellowhammer flock and a solitary Corn Bunting.  A Water Pipit was a superb find though and Jackdaw was also a notable find that morning. After a sugarless cup of tea in the portacabin I headed for home in the peeing rain.

20th March:

At last a Med Gull on Chingford Rugby Club fields. I check then on my way to Poly and was pleased to find a 1st year plodding around.

Med Gull 

21st March:

Roy W came home from Aberystwyth this weekend for the Pine Bunting but of course it had moved on. A quick whizz round produced three Long-eared Owls, a Corn Bunting once again and a noticeable fall of 30 smart, fresh Meadow Pipits with a single Tree Pipit amongst them.

22nd March:

Aldwick on the outskirts of Bognar Regis was the destination for Pete and I as we staked out some gardens for the first ever wintering UK Pallas’s Warbler. The bird was frequenting small well vegetated cul-de-sac gardens and so its appearances were erratic but we got lucky and it popped up after just five minutes allowing superb scope views. A well marked bird but oddly brighter on one side than the other. It was hyperactive and appeared to be on piece of rather stretchy elastic. It called once – a loud ‘too-eek’ and was the first time that I have ever heard one call. Feeling chuffed at seeing this tricky bird so quickly we packed up and headed west towards Church Norton passing a ringtail Hen Harrier over the car as we left.

Pallas’s Warbler

At Ferry Pool a Little Ringed Plover was sheltering of of the fierce wind and probably wishes it had never left Africa and three Wheatears similarly found their way onto my year list. Church Norton was even windier but this did not prevent three Chiffchaffs from heartily singing. Waders were few but included Grey Plovers and a Blackwit in summer plumage already. The sea was rough but only held Mallard, Mergansers and an obliging Slavonian Grebe. Lunch with a bald Robin in the car park and then to Selsey Bill where as usual we saw nothing. With that we came home across the hilly Sussex and Surrey countryside.

25th March:

The Slack at the Chase was fairly quiet with 16 Shovelers, 12 Teal and 15 Snipe and the Meadow Pipit flock was still around.  There were now five singing Chiffchaffs and the greyish ‘tristis’ type bird was also still around.

28th March- 3rd April:

Girvan Geology Field Trip – South-west Scotland:

The long coach journey up produced a few goodies including three Peregrines, Buzzards and Ravens and by travelling along the coast I added two Red-throated Divers, two Whooper Swans, Curlews, Oystercatchers and a female Merlin!

Gannets and Eiders were seen every day and Black Guillemot and Black-throated Divers were useful year ticks too. Other jaunts out produced Peregrine, Common Scoters, Dippers, Crossbills, Whimbrel (1st April), Wheatear (1st April), Swallow (30th March) and a male Ring Ouzel (31st March) with a total of 92 species logged and five new year birds in total.

[Eds: This was my very first Poly/Uni field trip and probably only my third time ever away from home. It was great and actually awakened my interest in the landscape around me. Being able to bird and learn stuff at the same time suited me down to the ground. I can remember naive nights in the hotel bar and being introduced to (but avoiding playing) beer drinking games, a bloated sheep on a beach that one of the lads – Dom I think – leapt onto thinking it was a rock, to searching for local Agate pebbles on a beach, lots of cold rain and the volcanic plug of Ailsa Craig offshore in the Firth of Clyde]

It's the Queen of Spades Phil!

Costa Rica - Day 1 and 2 – 13th and 14th March 2022

Costa Rica 13th-29th March 2022 in conjunction with Steve Bird’s wildlife Tours

We landed at San Jose on a steamy evening just before sundown but a lengthy wait to get nervously through customs precluded any from the van birding on the way to the Robledal Hotel on the outskirts of the capital. However, while waiting for Ramon to fight his way through the traffic to pick us up, noisy Great Tailed Grackles were seen in the palms by the taxi rank which gave all the newbies their first tick of the adventure. 

It was good to see Steve and Gina again and we were soon booked in for the night and eating ‘dinner’. A concert was going on somewhere nearby and the planes were so low that they felt like they were going to land on the hotel but it all went quiet before too long and there was just the sound of the wind, city life, cicadas and occasional ‘poo, poo, poo’ of Ferruginous Pygmy Owls to lull us excitedly into our first sleep back in Costa Rica.

Unsurprisingly I was up with the lark or in the CR case, the Clay Coloured Thrushes who make up the bulk of any initial dawn chorus regardless of where you are.  I stood outside and listened to the hotel grounds wake up and was joined before too long by most of the party.  Dad, Julie and Angie came last time and knew what to expect but it was still good to see the anticipatory smiles so early in the day.

Clay Coloured Thrushes pre-dawn

The Thrushes were soon joined by the Flycatchers with Tropical Kingbirds (TKs), Kiskadees and Social Flycatchers on the wires and foraging around the palm fruit and two illuminous Spot Breasted Orioles bedecked in orange and black became the first new bird of the trip for me although they did not linger long. Summer, Blue-grey and Palm Tanagers squeaked and a pair of Lineated Woodpeckers came in and landed on a palm stump just a few meters away before performing a ‘you can’t see me’ dance around each other. Red Billed Pigeons and White-winged Doves were cooing in various ways and pairs of scaly Inca Doves tottered around the lawns.

Clay-coloured Thrush

Great Kiskadee

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird

Lineated Woodpecker

White-winged Dove

Inca Doves

No more than ten steps had been made from the room at this stage and so with everyone up we had a look around the grounds where chipping Yellow Warblers were up I the canopy along with a Yellow-green Vireo and several Baltimore Orioles. There was no one peering out of the owl box but the Ferruginous Pygmy was soon found glaring furiously down at us from a tree. Despite being a common species we only saw one last time so it was good to have such close prolonged views on the first morning.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

House Wrens were in song and Rufous Backed Wrens soon joined in and could be seen clambering around. Seeing such a big wren for the first time was a surprise to most.  Melodious Blackbirds and Grackles strode about the lawn and two Cinnamon-bellied (used to be Grayish) Saltators were picking at flower buds. Quite a few taxonomic changes have occurred since my first visit and I will do my best to keep up to date!  Cinnamon Hummingbirds were around the Verbena but we could not find the Canivet's Emeralds but a male Plain-capped Starthroat was ample compensation.

Melodious Blackbird

Cinnamon Hummingbird

Plain-capped Starthroat

Plain-capped Starthroat

Hummingbird nest

The first Black and Turkey Vultures cruised through the blue and Yellow-headed Caracara and several Snowy and Cattle Egrets came over while small groups of Finsch’s Parakeets whizzed over but never stopped. Blue & White Swallows milled about and with them were Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Black Vultures

Variegated Squirrel

I was already excited by the collection of pre-breakfast birds and I am sure that the others were similarly enthused. I remember that first morning in 2020 all too well; everything new, unfamiliar and exciting.

Breakfast was taken (like most places) almost outside and a male Summer Tanager and pair of Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers joined us for their own fruity repast.

Hoffmann’s Woodpecker

Dad with his first Beans, Rice and Plantain breakfast of the trip

Orchid sp

It was soon time to hit the road for the drive north and there was plenty to see en route through a largely agricultural countryside dotted with the exploding golden sulphur yellow crowns of the flowering Yellow Cortez (Tabebuia ochracea) trees. We encountered Crested Caracaras, Grey and Broad-winged Hawks and a White-tailed Kite amongst the raptors, urban Grey-breasted Martins, the odd House Sparrow (although Steve suffered almost permanently with 'Sparrow blindness') and Common Ground Doves, a swirling flock of huge White-collared Swifts and Great White Egret, Anhinga and Ringed Kingfisher on a roadside pool.

White-tailed Kite

Yellow Cortez (Tabebuia ochracea)

Broad-winged Hawk

A coffee – milkshake stop at Canopy San Luis gave us all the first feeding station of the trip but we declined the zip wire options... It was Tanagertastic with many Silver-throated, Blue-grey and Palm visiting the banana bar along with gleaming Emeralds, black and red Passerini's and Crimson Collared, Golden Hooded, Bay Headed and my first Speckled which were a delight to see. 

Bay Headed Tanager

Blue-grey and Silver Throated Tanager

Emerald Tanager

Silver Throated Tanagers

Palm Tanager

Palm Tanager

Passerini's Scarlet-rumped Tanager

Passerini's Scarlet-rumped Tanager

Passerini's Scarlet-rumped Tanager

Passerini's Scarlet-rumped Tanager

Crimson Collared Tanager

Speckled Tanager

Speckled & Silver Throated Tanagers

Speckled Tanager

Speckled & Silver Throated Tanager

A chunky Blue & Gold Tanager moved through the canopy but did not come down and was a real bonus and Tawny-capped Euphonias, Common Chlorospingus, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Baltimore Orioles, Clay-coloured Thrushes and Green Honeycreepers joined in the fruit feast.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Clay-coloured Thrush and friends

Common Chlorospingus

Common Chlorospingus

Green Honeycreeper & Silver-throated Tanager

Green Honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper, Silver-throated & Emerald Tanager

A male Green Thorntail and Rufous-tailed, Green Hermit and Crowned Woodnymph Hummingbirds were seen around the Verbena and up in the canopy there were wood-warblers with Yellow, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided and vibrant Tropical Parula.  Even just two weeks later than my first visit it was already obvious that the warblers were further advanced into summer plumages.

Crowned Woodnymph

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

When on a balcony feeding station it is always worth looking over the edge to the ground below where Wood Thrushes and Grey Breasted Wood-wrens foraged and a pair of Chestnut-capped Brush-finches tossed through the leaf litter.  The strong but sad song of Black-headed Nightingale-thrush could be heard and one male came close to the café and even perched up on a branch and sang in view for a few moments. The first Coatimundi was poking around under the building.

Two Black-headed Saltators moved through the canopy and a pair of dinky Smoky-brown Woodpeckers came in and actually posed quite nicely for a change.  Usually I have only seen them briefly or up in the canopy.  There was one last treat in store with a flash of dark blue and white drawing us to a male Slate-throated Whitestart that was flicking around the lower paths although it seldom stayed still for more than a second or two.

Smoky-brown Woodpecker

Smoky-brown Woodpecker

White Nosed Coatimundi 

Back outside to the bus where Blue & White Swallows were nesting under the café eaves and two Swallow-tailed Kites circled down in the valley.

North again with the mighty Arenal volcano looming up and into the cloud on our left hand side for many miles.  Red-winged Blackbirds were added along with the already now familiar roadside Flycatchers and then once through La Fortuna with its myriad of tourist lures we turned onto the Arenal Observatory Lodge road and started to climb back up.  A Southern Lapwing strode around a mown verge and a Little Blue Heron stop also added buff rumped Southern Rough Winged Swallows. An immature Gray Hawk on the wires required closer scrutiny to confirm the identification and a stop at one of the river crossings saw a Fasciated Tiger-heron in exactly the same spot as 2020 with Black Phoebe and Louisiana Waterthrushes for waterside company.  There were more butterflies on the wing that we saw all of last time.

immature Gray Hawk 

immature Gray Hawk 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Fasciated Tiger-heron

Louisiana Waterthrush

Southern Lapwing
Banded Peacock - Anartia fatima 

Cinnamon-bellied Saltator
At Arenal OL  we had some time before we could check in so it was straight into lunch while trying not to watch to much out of the windows around the feeders. Food consumed and straight outside for a session overlooking the gardens and expansive views with only an almost black Red-tailed Hawk distracting proceedings.

The chicken club sandwich...

Montezuma Oropendolas (Montys from now on) were in on the replenished fruit with a couple each of Crested Guan and Grey-headed Chachalaca in for the frenzy. 

Montezuma Oropendola

Montezuma Oropendolas

Crested Guan

A similar collection of Tanagers to San Luis were dropping in but there were two special additions with two female Black & Yellows and a single Rufous-winged – both of which should not really be at Arenal and both of which were new.  The latter looked like a slightly different Bay-headed. The Scarlet Rumped up here are still Passerini’s. Scarlet-thighed and Blue Dacnis were feeding in a fruiting tree along with Buff-throated Saltators, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers and both Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers.  It was as magical and bedazzling as I remember it.

Golden Hooded Tanager

Rufous-winged Tanager - Jim Willet

Rufous-winged Tanager - Jim Willet

Tawny-capped Euphonia

Buff-throated Saltator

Brown Jays came in after the other ‘big birds’ had largely vacated and Red-lored and White-crowned Parrots moved across the valley and on the Verbena below there were Crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed, Violet-headed, White-necked Jacobin and Green Hermit Hummers along with some splendid looking butterflies.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Brown Jay

Brown Jay

Violet-headed HB

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin - Ken Copleston

Green Hermit

We eventually checked in and Dad and I ended up in one of the further lodges up near the waterfall trail.  It had a magnificent view of the grounds and volcano and an immature Black-crested Coquette was a fine way to greet us just outside the window.  

A room with a view

A basic unpack and freshen up and then a walk back towards the bridge to meet the others but this even quickly added more species with singing Scaly-breasted HBs that I remembered sounding like an odd Reed Bunting, two each of Cinnamon Becard and Black-cowled Oriole, chattering Band-backed Wrens and Grey Capped Flycatchers and all with the back drop of singing Toucans and of the Montys in their pendulous nests in the tallest Eucalypts.

Yellow-throated Toucans and Montezuma Oropendolas

The path took us down through the lower gardens and onto the pretty dark upper trail and although we picked up Orange-bellied and Slaty-tailed Trogons, Short-billed Pigeons (‘who cooks for you?’), Rufous Antshrike and both Yellow-throated and Keel-billed Toucans, it was fairly quiet so we popped back up into the gardens where more birds were on offer.  A mixed flock added our first startling male Black & Yellow Tanager along with a few of the same Warblers encountered earlier in the day along with a couple of Common Tody Flycatchers.

Chestnut Sided Warbler

Keel Billed Toucan or Kill Bills as we called them

Middle American Ameiva

Grey-breasted Wood-wrens and Bright-rumped Attila  (‘did it – did it – did it – did not’) could be heard singing in the forest and a Streaked Flycatcher perched up briefly.  The managed gardens added a few grovelling Variable Seed-eaters and Yellow-faced Grassquits along with Rufous-collared Sparrows and family packs of Coatis were busy rotovating the lawns but the Coquette was not around by the time we got back up towards our rooms until most people left to head back of course when an adult male appeared and fluttered about in the fading light.


Rufous-collared Sparrow


Dusk fell to the ever increasing whine of cicadas and the strange calls of the Guans and Montys as they headed off to their respective beds and the eerie drifting lights of Fireflies flicking on and off as they weaved slowly across the gardens.

Steve set up his moth light alongside our room but it was a tad windy and attracted little but the shadows on the sheet of those inside the trap gave the impression of Bees and Moths the size of cats waiting to be released!  A House Wren roosted up in a crevice above the trap and I found a large Click Beetle that showed two spots of bio-luminescence on the scutellum. The brightness was amazing but probably unhelpful given the number of woofing House Geckos lurking around the rooms!

House Gecko - Hemidactylus frenatus - I did not realise they were not native

Smilisca phaoeta

Cane Toad

Click Beetle

Click Beetle

Moth #1

Moth #2

Moth #3

Long-horn Beetle

Soldier Beetle

Sleep came easy after a multi-coloured tropical start to this latest adventure. It felt like the first day all over again but with the added confidence that I had at least a better idea of what I was seeing and hearing this time.

New Birds: * = life tick ** = new to Costa Rica but previously seen elsewhere

1: Spot Breasted Oriole *

2: Speckled Tanager *

3: Slate-throated Whitestart *

4: Rufous-winged Tanager *

5: Black & Yellow Tanager *

6: Blue Dacnis *